A BALLYHALBERT woman is warning of the dangers of lion’s mane jellyfish after ending up in A&E with anaphylaxis.

Mother of two, Barbara Morrow, received multiple stings on both legs while swimming close to her home village’s harbour on August 6. She had come in contact with the venomous sea creature’s long tentacles which stung her countless times from her toes up to her thighs.

It wasn’t long before the 44 year-old lifelong open sea swimmer experienced the worst pain of her life and her breathing became laboured as she went into anaphylaxis, a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. Having a nut allergy, she used her epipen, but her condition continued to get worse.

Living in a remote part of the Ards Peninsula Barbara feared an ambulance would take too long to come to her aid, to ferry her to hospital, but 999 staff realised the gravity of her swiftly worsening condition and she was made a top priority.

An ambulance crew was with her in under 30 minutes, prompting a blue light dash to the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald, accompanied by her husband.

Barbara’s ambulance arrived at the hospital to join a queue of around ten other emergency vehicles, and despite being a category one patient, it still took two hours to be seen.

She was then treated over two hours before being released at around 1.30am the next morning.

More than two weeks later, Barbara is still recovering from her ordeal and now she wants to warn people of the dangers posed by the species of jellyfish that made her so ill.

“I still feel rather unwell, with all the adrenalin I had pumped into me and though I don’t want to be an alarmist or believe that people should stop swimming, I just wanted to warn people just how dangerous these jellyfish can be,” she said.

“I think jellyfish are amazing – having no brain and still managing to live – and I have been stung by this particular species of jellyfish before, but that was minor, but many people don’t realise that their tentacles still have the capacity up to two weeks after they are dead.

“They are starting to die out and the beaches are covered in them, but children like to poke things and dogs are out on the beach and I just want people to be aware they can still get a nasty sting when they’re dead,” she said.

“They’re still venomous and their stings are pretty potent.”

Barbara was shocked at the level of the reaction she took to the jelly fish stings.

“I know a lot of people who are sea swimmers and they were all shocked at the level of reaction I had,” she said.

Issuing her warning, Barbara recounted her ordeal, which was intended to be a ‘recovery’ swim after coming in fourth place in a Swim Ulster race event in Portrush the day before.

“I was out with another woman and was doing the crawl – which helps me sea things more clearly – and there were a few jet skiers and I just stopped to see what the jet skiers were getting up to, so my legs lowered into the water and straight into the tentacles of a lion’s mane.”

She said the fact that the stings got both her legs, from her toes up to her thighs, illustrates the length of the creature’s tentacles.

The pain hit almost immediately, causing agony as if her legs were on fire.

Barbara said she now knows too well how jellyfish kill its prey by disabling its respiratory system.

“I went home and got into the hot water because that’s supposed to be good to neutralise its toxins but my husband noticed my breathing was being affected so he phoned 999.

“I have an epipen, because I’ve an allergy to macadamia and walnuts but it’s easy to avoid those dangers so I had never used the epipen before 

“The pain was indescribable – I have had numerous broken bones and had two children – and nothing comes close to the pain I was in,” she continued.

Commenting that her two children, aged nine and seven, are both autistic, Barbara said she couldn’t even hide her level of fear and discomfort from them, leaving her husband to try to reassure them while hanging on with the 999 call handler, who stayed on the phone with him until the ambulance crew arrived.

Barbara, who recently shared her concerns over the proposed closure of the Newtownards Minor Injuries Unit due to the remoteness of her village, praised the ambulance for getting to her so quickly.

“I was really getting frightened because my breathing was getting worse and basically you fear death in such a situation but the ambulance got here in less than 30 minutes, which we couldn’t believe,” she said.

Eager to praise all the staff who helped her and her husband through the terrifying experience, from the 999 call handler who remained on the phone giving advice and updates on the ambulance’s journey to their home, to the crew who had little experience of a jellyfish reaction like hers but provided much-needed IV pain relief, she said they ‘were absolutely amazing’.

She added that the medical staff in the hospital were also superb especially considering the fact that ‘the A&E was rammed on a Sunday night dealing with terrible illnesses and injuries’.

“I really want to praise all the medical staff, including my local GP who has been ringing to check my progress,” she said.

She said she felt ‘cared for’ despite the current health service pressures when services like the borough’s two MIU – in Bangor and Newtownards – face imminent closure.

Barbara did however, state that her experience of becoming very ill, did highlight the fact that the removal of the MIU in Newtownards, which she uses with regularity, leaves her isolated rural area with fewer medical services.

“I just wish they would stop taking services like this away,” she said, adding that the move will heap further strain on already overworked emergency staff.

“The strain on the staff there was shocking,” she pointed out. “This was a Sunday night and before we arrived at the hospital the paramedics said it wouldn’t be too busy but it was rammed. It was pretty shocking really, what I saw and what the staff had to deal with.”

Barbara remains undaunted about getting back to her love of swimming, but has already returned to the sea, though staying well within the harbour these days, where the lion’s mane are less likely to visit.




One day before Barbara’s frightening encounter with a lion’s mane jellyfish in Ballyhalbert, she was jubilant after coming fourth in her Swim Ulster skins racing event in Portrush.